Google Drive Update Adds Functionality for the Classroom

The Google Drive app for Android was updated yesterday and includes a bunch of cool features for teachers.

The standout updates for me were:

Ability to download files.  The older Drive app allowed you (and still does) the ability to save a document or file for offline viewing.  Now, however, you can actually download the file directly to your Android device.  I tested it out by uploading an .mp3 to Drive on my laptop, then downloading it onto my device and it worked.  From there I was able to open it up in the Google Play Music app.  This is great because file management on mobile devices – how to get things from point A the student to point B the teacher – has always been an issue.  Yes there are workarounds but it’s usually a process and it’s hardly ever seamless.  Now, if a student creates a movie or audio file on one device, they should be able to save it to their Drive account, download it to another device and keep working without having to include Dropbox, and thus another login account.

Download a file
Download a file

Scan documents.  Drive for Android now allows you to scan documents as a PDF.  I use this function quite a bit with Evernote for anything from receipts to important documents, so it’s nice to see that functionality extended to Drive.  Drive utilizes OCR to help quickly search for a document and pull it up, which is helpful.  Scanning documents from a mobile device is one step closer to becoming a near paperless class.

Scan a doc in Drive
Scan a doc in Drive

Although this is available for Android only at the moment, I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that the update will be coming to iOS devices in the not too distant future.  Google has a pretty good track record as of late of keeping iOS and Android apps competitive with each other (i.e. Maps) and in some cases, better (still no YouTube Capture for Android?).

See the list below for all of the features available for the latest Google Drive for Android.

* With Google Drive, you can store all your files in one place, so you can access them from anywhere and share them with others
* Use the Google Drive Android app to access your photos, documents, videos and other files stored on your Google Drive
* Upload files to Google Drive directly from your Android device
* Share any file with your contacts
* Access files others have shared with you on Google Drive
* Make any file available offline so you can view them even when you don’t have an Internet connection
* Manage files on the go
* Create and edit Google documents with support for tables, comments and rich text formatting
* Create and edit Google spreadsheets with support for text formatting, multiple sheets and sorting
* Edits to your Google documents and spreadsheets appear to collaborators in seconds
* View Google presentations with full animations and speaker notes
* View your PDFs, Office documents and more
* Scan documents, receipts and letters for safe keeping in Drive; then search by contents once uploaded
* Print files stored in Google Drive on the go using Google Cloud Print
* Open files stored in Google Drive through Drive enabled apps in the browser
* Optimized experience to take advantage of larger screens for tablet users, Honeycomb (Android 3.0+)

List taken from Google Play.

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Drawing Upon PBS Kids

Something dawned on me the other day while making dinner.  My son was watching PBS Kids as I was cooking in the kitchen (cranberry chicken, quite tasty).  Martha Speaks and Word Girl make regular appearances around our house and my son, although he doesn’t understand most of it, does get wrapped up in their episodic exploits.  While we were watching these animated creations, I realized something: certain “explanation-creation” apps such as Educreations and Explain Everything follow the same core premise PBS Kids anchors itself to.

  • Create drawings and animations that are visually appealing? Check. 
  • Tell a good story? Check. 
  • Try to teach somebody something new? Check. 

The end results of PBS Kids and using an “explanation-creation” (is there a better term for these?) app maybe vastly different, but the goals are basically the same; try to teach somebody something new in an engaging informative and visually appealing way. So how does this translate to the classroom? Well, it’s more relevant than you might think. Rather than just tell kids to open up an app on their iPads and tell me what you know, why not instead frame it as though they need to tell me a story?  Or, teach me something without me realizing that I’m learning.  Because that is essentially what a lot of these shows do, and they’re quite good at it.  I’ve never been part of a group of TV writers but I imagine that when the creators of these kids  shows try to think of new episodes, it is equal parts “how are we going to get kids to learn?” and “how am I going to make it engaging so that they’ll actually want to watch it?”. Oftentimes in education we get bogged down with the former and don’t pay much attention to the latter.  We become very transfixed with figuring out how kids are going to show the teacher what they know.  Now, that is very important – don’t get me wrong – however, if that is our sole focus in the classroom, that mindset often eliminates creativity for kids.  If kids are so content on only explaining what they know then they aren’t accessing different parts of their mind to allow them to be creative.

Educreations
Educreations

 

And kids need that permission.  They need to be encouraged to not just show what they know but to show it in a creative way that is engaging to them and to their audience. There are a lot of kids who try to please the teacher and just do the most “academic” work they can for the teacher and in the process they will sacrifice their own creativity.  There are also a lot of kids who may not want to do anything because their perception is that the only right answer for a teacher is the one that has a lot of words and looks very rehearsed and looks as though they are writing a college level term paper.  But it does not have to be that way.  We can assess whether or not students know and understand the things that they need to understand by allowing them to breathe life into a topic they are interested in and creatively changing it to give it meaning for themselves.

Explain Everything
Explain Everything

So, this is something that I’m going to try to keep in mind as I use iPads in my class more and more and more as a creation tool to help not only with student engagement but to grow a student center of creativity and authorship..

YouTube Capture

Capturing film on the iPad is one of it’s strengths, especially as a mobile device.  Getting that video onto YouTube – specifically a teacher or student created YouTube channel within my district, we’re single sign on – has been a struggle.

No more.

Google has recently released YouTube Capture.  YouTube Capture is built for an iPhone/iPod Touch, but will work on the iPad (I suspect full support for the iPad is forthcoming).  With YouTube Capture, filming and uploading your video straight to your YouTube channel is a breeze.  Once you have the app installed, you can access other videos you have saved on your iPad, upload them, and do some of the same light editing you can do on an the web, such as trimming clips, colore correction, stabilization, and adding soundtracks.  If students are using iMovie, they can save their feature rich videos to their camera roll, and then upload them via YouTube Capture.

The point of YouTube Capture is to get users to upload and create faster than ever before.  This is a huge boon for students who want to create videos for class, and for teachers who are sick of the workarounds on an iPad.

Win-win.

Click here to get the app.

1:1 with iPads – Reflections at the Halfway Point

At the beginning of the school year my role within my school has changed in a fairly significant way.  I went from a full time classroom teacher who passionately and excitedly uses technology in the classroom to reach my students to a part-time classroom teacher who still does those things, but now also oversee digital content creation and technology integration within my school and my district.  This year our district embarked on a new adventure when we decided to start going 1:1 with iPads in the classroom.
The plan is that for the school year of 2012-2013, all incoming seventh graders in both junior highs will receive an iPad. These iPad are still owned and are controlled by the district, but students are able to manage them on their own because each student has their own individual Apple ID. Their Apple ID’s are still known to us because we helped them sign up and create the account along with their parents.  Student email (and the email connected to the Apple ID) is tied to their Google apps email which they already have since we are a Google apps district. Our district has two junior highs with about 900 students each. So, it’s been quite an undertaking placing around 600 iPads in the hands of seventh graders.


Halfway through the school year we have had mixed results and there has been a sharp learning curve as we have had to adapt and evolve the program, but I would say that the grand experiment has been successful because it is changing the way teachers are teaching and it is helping to educate our students in more dynamic ways. It can be really easy to get caught up on the types of things that are not working well.  Cracked screens, apps should not be downloaded such as non-educational games and instant messaging, lost cables and chargers are all the types of things you have to accept if you’re going to go 1:1 with iPad. Usually in a school if you’re talking about behavioral problems you’re typically only talking about 5 to 10 percent of the kids. So it’s important for me to remember and remind myself that things such as cracked screens and other user error problems are frustrating and annoying, but it’s not all of the kids that are having these problems.  It’s a very small percentage of kids having these issues but it feels like it’s a bigger problem than it probably is.

1:1 with iPads
1:1 with iPads


Over the summer and at the start of this school year, introducing new iPad into the hands of students and staff was a revolution of sorts. It would significantly change the way teachers were going to operate, how students were going to operate within their school, and some of the policies and procedures our school has.  That was a Revolution.  Now that we have our feet under us once again and we’ve been doing this for a while now, we’ve had to focus our attention and change and now we have a constant evolution of the program.  The initial types of behavioral procedures have the evolved.  The way students are downloading apps has evolved.  The way that students take care of their iPads has evolved.  And, maybe most importantly, the way teachers are getting their kids to interact with what they’re learning and affect their education has also evolved.  This is what excites me most.  To be able to see how teachers are changing and adapting the way they teach to meet the needs of our students is very gratifying.  I cannot take credit for this evolution on the teachers part. And I won’t pretend to.  I work with some of the most creative, ingenious and dynamic teachers in the world.  A lot of what they’re doing is stemming from their core beliefs about teaching and their passion for serving kids.  Regardless it is really fun to be able to see our school through this positive experience.


Next year we are rolling out 300 more iPads in our school so that both seventh and eighth graders will have them, and then the following year, the ninth graders will get iPads as well. So in three years time all students in both junior highs in our district will have an iPad. As fun as it is to see how it’s transforming a single grade of students and teachers that work with them, it will really be amazing to see what happens in two more years when every student in our building has a mobile device to help them learn in engaging ways both inside the classroom and outside as well.

Using Our Tech Dollars Wisely

Schools never have enough money.  Or so they say.  So walk through the wardrobe with me for just a second and let’s pretend we’re in a land where someone wants to give you money.  Essentially, a blank check.  Now, what do you do with it?

What would you spend your money on?

For me, I’d use it to fund an educational technology initiative.  But what exactly?  Would I just buy hardware like iPads?  More computers? eReaders like the Nook or Kindle?  Digital Cameras?  Money can get spent pretty quickly if you’re buying hardware, not to mention the ancillary equipment also needed.

Sometimes, it’s easy to get swept up in purchasing as many new and flashy gadgets as we can in the hopes that will improve education.  The best way to improve education, to me, is better teaching.  So while a teacher may have access to better classroom technologies, if they don’t know how to use it (or use it effectively) it becomes a waste of time and money.  Lately I’ve been thinking that it might be time to throttle back on consuming hardware, and start thinking about increasing staff support and the proper teaching of even basic skills to students.  So many students lack in basic computing skills and knowledge, does it really benefit them to use an app they might only use once?  Beats me.  I guess this is a content vs. skills question at its core.  In some cases (in a perfect world) you could do both easily.  Although I love iPad’s, I struggle to see a future where one of my student’s ability to get into college or get a job will hinge on whether or not they know how to operate an app.

So….back to the original question:  someone gives you a bunch of money at your school.  What do you use it for?

Discuss.

The Case for a Student UI

By all accounts, Apple’s iPad is already a huge success. Pre-orders soared and it’s Apple sold a gazillion within the first few days.  I’ve posted in the past about whether or not I thought the iPad would be a successful tool to use in the classroom. It might be, it  just might, but ultimately, I think it’s success largely depends upon how well students are able to navigate it.

If you have fingers, you can navigate an iPad, but then what?

One of the biggest mistakes that can be made when introducing a new technology into a classroom is to assume all students know how to do what you’re asking them to. Students (especially this generation – insert symbolic individual letter here) are fairly adept at figuring these things out on their own. A lot of them are used to handling a new gadget and have some rudimentary understanding of how UIs work, but not all. That’s part of the problem though. Does the UI of a device have to be overly complicated to be great? And, if the goal for students using the device is to improve student success, do we really want them to hit the ground stumbling as opposed to running?

This brings into question the effectiveness of having the iPad as the defacto learning gadget of a classroom. Students all know how to use their fingers, so the idea of simple gestures like swiping and pinch-to-zoom should be second nature, in theory. But then what? If it’s really hard to open an ebook and annotate that book once it is open, is it worth it to force students to learn a completely new process?

I want my students to be able to pick up a device and have more familiarity with something they already know how to do without a gadget, like writing. That’s why I’m currently batting my eyes at the pretty girl across the room who goes by the name of Courier.

Courier is the still unofficial tablet product rumored to be created and released by Microsoft. Based on rumored leaks, the Courier can do everything the iPad can do but (from my classroom centric vantage point) better.

See, the Courier is designed to look like and act like a book or journal as it is. In addition to having multi-touch capabilities like the iPad, it also has a stylus input. Speaking for my classes alone, my students aren’t taking notes with their fingers, they’re using a pen or pencil. And (if recent potential demo video are to be believed) the pen/stylus does so much more than just draw.

Although the interface and the learning curve of the Courier might seem steeper, I think the payoffs might actually be greater.  There seems to be a lot more potential with interactivity and the device that goes beyond fingered brush strokes.

I already have a classroom set of iTouches, so the need for something “simple” is already met. What I want is for my students to create and read, something – I have a sneaking suspicion – is better suited for the dual screen format of the Courier.

If it ever exists…..of course.

iPad vs. iTouch: Classroom Throwdown

Steve Jobs would like me to believe the new iPad will change my life.  I’ll never get another ailment in my life, I’ll never need to change the brake pads on my Mercury Sable, and my cup will overfloweth.  The iPad is not just the device I want, it’s the device I need.  Why?  Because Apple says so, apparently, and the great Sage of the technology universe has told me I need it.  Maybe I’ll buy an iPad eventually, but the more immediate question for me is, do I buy iPads for my class?

What kind of devilry am I up to? Read an eBook on the iPad to find out...

See, not that long ago, I applied for and received a grant to purchase a classroom set of iTouches.  I was all set to order the iTouches, but I decided to hold off until the mega Apple event slated (pun intended, of course) for January 27, 2010 A.D.  Like everyone else on planet earth I was expecting Jobs to unveil a tablet device.  But, what I was really hoping for was a refreshed iTouch.  Specifically, I  was hoping Apple would include a camera, which would open the door to a lot of really cool possibilities in a classroom setting.  Seriously Apple, you can fit a video camera in the Nano but not the iTouch?  Really?

Alas, they didn’t.  At least not yet.  But I can’t wait until August, I need to make a decision now.

So now the internal narrative becomes iTouch or iPad? iDon’t know.

To be sure, the iPad is a very intriguing piece of hardware.  It appears to do a lot of things well.  It might be really great for me, but will it be great for my classroom?  Although it’s big and beautiful, I think a strong case can be made for a classroom set of iTouches as well.

iPad

Pros

eBooks

For me, this is probably the single biggest reason to buy the iPad.  The idea that I could download a bunch of books onto one tablet as opposed to having a giant bookshelf full of large cumbersome and heavy books is a very attractive idea.  Cost wise alone, I’m guessing that I could replace all of my textbooks with iPads and find a cheaper yet still effective eBook for my curriculum and still have change left over.  From what I’ve seen on video, the UI of the iPad as an eReader looks really, really smooth and natural.  It may take a while to get a student familiar enough with a Kindle to use it effectively, but nearly every kid ought to be able to figure out how to swipe their finger to turn a page.

Apps

The blessing and curse of the iPad, is that it’s essentially an iTouch on steroids.  The blessing side of that coin is that it can run all the apps an iTouch can.  So, anything I was thinking about doing in my class with an iTouch, I could – in theory at least – also do with the iPad.  The apps become a nonissue, and, I would be shocked if some enterprising soul didn’t take advantage of that screen real estate and develop some killer educational apps for the iPad.

Cons

No Multitasking

I suppose I can accept that the iTouch can’t multitask, but the inability of the iPad to multitask is ludicrous.  Imagine I wanted my students to explore battlefields of the Civil War in Google Earth then write a post about it in a class wiki or blog.  They couldn’t do both at once.  I teach 8th graders.  They’re not perfect, they forget things and they want to explore and create. A lot.  The ability to freely switch back and forth between two applications is necessary.  Heck, I need to switch back and forth between multiple applications at once.

No Flash

The iPad is touted as having “the best web experience ever”.  That is categorically bollocks.  The best web experience, is on a laptop or desktop.  If I can’t play Adobe flash video files, that means I can’t access 70% of video content on the web.  If I wanted my students to watch a video from CNN.com about the tragedy in Haiti, they couldn’t do it.  Now I understand that I couldn’t do this with iTouches either because they also do not support flash video.  But the iPad is much more expensive.  Do I really want to shell out that much more money?  We already have laptops.

Limited Input

I honestly think a student cold type on an iTouch faster than on an iPad.  The iTouch is smaller, and therefore fits in two hands easier.   I don’t see a student typing on an iPad with one hand unless they’re hunting and pecking, it’s too large for that.  It is possible to hook up a keyboard via Bluetooth or buy the keyboard dock, but again, that’s going to cost more, and if that’s what I want, why not just use a laptop?  There aren’t any USB ports either.  So whatever is created by a student has to be created on the iPad and shared over the web.  This isn’t a totally awful idea, but think if you wanted students to make a video.  They can’t do it because there’s no camera.  They also couldn’t upload anything to the iPad because of the USB omission.  Blech.

Mobility

An iPad is larger for obvious reasons.  I can easily envision students sitting at their desks using an iPad.  But, that’s the problem.  What I can’t envision, are student’s carrying these all over school.  I’m already fearful of having kids sitting on the floor with these or knocking it off their desk.  The whole point of an iTouch, is it can fit in your pocket.  It’s small.  It allows the owner of said device to go wherever they want with it.  If my student’s are going to be confined to a classroom, wouldn’t it be smarter for them just to use a laptop?

It’s not a fair comparison to pitt the iPad vs. the iPhone.  I think that’s just a bit apples and oranges.  But, a case can be made for the iTouch vs. the iPad.  Here’s the crux of the contention: the iPad can do everything an iTouch can do, and a bit more (Books, in particular).  But can the iPad do those things so well that because of the cost I’d want to get half a classroom set instead of a full classroom set of iTouches?  Especially when I can check out a laptop cart from our media center that can do all of these things and much, much, more?

iDon’t Know.